“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Just nine months prior, the angelic being named Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, visited Zechariah in the temple. He brought news that he and his aging wife would bear a child. Zechariah did not believe, and he was struck silent by the angel.
Fast forward to the scene of today’s text. Can you picture him? There’s Zechariah, the man whose tongue the angel silenced. He’s holding a sign. It says in big letters, “His name is John.” With Zechariah’s speech now suddenly restored, the Spirit of God shatters the four hundred years of silence with this prophecy of promise, some of the most cherished words in the history of the world.
What is it about silence? It is different than mere quiet. A room can be completely silent yet still devoid of quiet. How? Because the real noise is not from without but within. Silence is the outer reality of a space without sound. Quiet is the inner reality of a heart without noise. Silence is not a prerequisite for quiet. The psalmist says, “But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content” (Ps. 131:2). Even in the midst of the noisiest surroundings, the Holy Spirit can bring us into a deep inner quiet. What a good word for a new year of faith.
As you find yourself in the silence of an early morning or late night, perhaps sitting near the glow of a Christmas tree, speak these words until they shift you from the outer silence into an inner quiet, “But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.”
Zechariah was forced into a fast from speech for a long season, because he did not have ears to hear. I suspect he learned a deeper quiet in those days, one that trained his ability to hear words and his heart to believe them. It’s why we must read Scripture aloud, so our ears can hear the primal sounds of faith.
Sometimes it takes fasting from our words in order to recover their power and meaning. God intends a deepest connection between the words from his mouth and the words from our mouths. When every space is filled with our words, there is little room left for the hearing of God’s words. Would you try an Advent experiment? Let’s call it “The New Quiet Game.” Start measuring how long you can go without speaking a word. Use the stopwatch feature on your phone with its lap timer, each lap beginning when you speak again. Like holding your breath stretches your lung capacity, see if holding your words might stretch your capacity for quiet. It will take time and attention, but it will shift things in your deeper disposition. It could have the effect of moving the furniture around in your soul. Who knows? In this kind of quiet, you could awaken to the voice of God in a whole new way. What could be better than that?
I want you to read this next word from Scripture aloud: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Did you hear it? “The dawn from on high will break upon us.” Doesn’t dawn break from below with the rising of the sun? How does dawn break from on high? This is awakening. This is Advent.
Our Father in heaven, nearer than my breath, thank you for these days of Advent and this new year in Christ. I want to ponder this difference between mere outer silence and deep inward quiet. My soul is stirred, and I sense it will be stirred deeper still if I can walk in this kind of fast. Come, Holy Spirit, and quiet my spirit so I might lean into more of your words, fasting from my words. I want to awaken to your Word as never before. In the name of Jesus Messiah—the one who came, is here, and is coming again—for his glory and our good, amen.
Will you play “The New Quiet Game” today? How long do you think you can go today without speaking a word? Come back tomorrow and record your best (longest) “quiet” lap. Get out your phone. Turn on the stopwatch. Ready. Set. Go!
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